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May 26, 2008 10:44 AM

Gourmet Garbage or Cheap Eats - a challenge - check this out!

I am definitely on a mission to save money, more so than ever. In the past when there has been craziness within the economy, I've always tried to do my part. Actually, I have become pretty thrifty, I don't waste and I search hard for the best price. But I really try harder when its everywhere on the news, and all I hear is loom and doom.

I have been using herbs, and veggies for some years now to better my cooking. I really do try to use less protien, and use more veggies. Interestingly enough, the market where I shop is diligently pricing their meats that are within a day or so of the expire date way down.

Lucky me, I get in there and first place I head is the meat and deli/cheese counters. I have purchased a great deal of meats, ranging from bacon and sausage to a rib roast originally priced at over $50 that I picked up for $20. Let me tell you, I am kicking myself for having the butcher cut that thing into 1 inch ribeyes that I delivered to my 20 something son and his roommates. They were thrilled. Oh well what are moms for?

Anyway, my latest all time great meal I prepared last night. I found a shoulder steak for $2/ about an inch and half thick with a lot of meat. I remember looking at it and thinking ok, I'll freeze it then worry about it when I can. If nothing else I can make a soup with it. No way!

I took the meat out of the freezer, marinated it in a combination of Asian spices-like, star anise, Chinese 5 spice, then made a marinade with sherry, soy, hoisin and oyster sauce. It needed herbs, so I chopped shallots ( you know these are really cheap and add some great flavor), garlic, fresh ginger, and scallions. I cooked this on my grill ( a cast iron stove top thing with ne side that's flat, and the other with ridges for grilling) choosing the flat side. (hey I know what it's like to clean, so I was tired ok?) Enter the two year old, no on second thought, don't.

I cooked fragrant jasmie rice, sauteed a huge zuchinni (free a gift from my hubby's co-worker) with white onions, red and green peppers, and carrots, garlic, ginger and scallions, in a simple stir fry sauce.

Then I sliced the medium rare steak, scooped the rice into a large flat bowl, topped it with the veggies, and layed plenty of steak around. Topped it all with fresh scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds.I served three, I have a huge portion of everything left-so make that a 4 portion meal. Ok, I know nothing is exoctic, nothing fancy I'm sure with a little more time, I could of done better with this modest piece of meat... The challenge is on, what would you of made with your pantry...keep it cheap now!

I think the meal cost me about, I'm going to pad this and say I made that meal for about 1.75 - 2.00 per person. YIPPPPPPPEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  1. Sounds like a great meal, prepared by a true champion! My econo cooking of the weekend was 2 large batches of tamales, both meat and veggie. I bought some beef for about $6, queso fresco for less than $2, some tomatillos and cilantro for salsa verde for about $!. All the rest was from my pantry and freezer - masa, corn husks, green chilis, corn, dried chilis, canned tomatoes, etc - and didn't cost much to begin with. There were plenty to take to a party, feed a houseful of teenagers, and still have a couple of dozen (!) in the freezer. I somehow find making tamales or dolma pretty relaxing, almost meditative in the repetition - surely, a bonu!.

    1 Reply
    1. re: janeh

      wow, that is some savings! Yes you're right, therapy and then eating them is so soul comforting, then of course there's the part where everyone tell you how wonderful you are for making them! Huge rewards, for your great shopping!

      Thankfully the weather turned cool, I'm eating a bowl of pinto beans, however they no longer look like pinto beans. Made a soup, with two different chili powder, NO tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro some wrapped up scraps of ham trimmings and two smoked pork chops (what are those-ham in disquise) that I got on a mark down price, a couple bucks. Made some cornbread, mashed the beans so its thick and creamy. They are delicious!! I've been cooking them two days, I am now going to let the family eat some.... thanks for answering janeh!

    2. My salade nicoise (big salad for dinner):

      Cook and evenly slice potatoes, blanch young green beans, wash and dry two-three types of lettuce, cook hard eggs and slice with egg slicer, core and seed tomatoes--slice in long eighths, feather cut a red onion; make some mayonaise and a vinaigrette; drain can or two of water-packed tuna.

      Then do not mix, but carefully plate the ingredients taking advantege of the different ingredients and the shape of your plates: lettuces in a bit of a pile, tuna in another, an arc of tomato, backed by an arc of potato, green beans in a bit of a woodpile, and so on. Dress beans with mayo; and dress lettuce, potato, and tomato with seasoned vinaigrette; add bit of chopped cilantro, final season with freshly ground black pepper.

      Filling, elegant, well plated and, not counting the wine, about $1.00 per person.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Thanks for trhe idea Sam! Ill be making this!

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          That's just my kind of salad, Sam. I love reading your menus and recipes!!

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            That is good indeed. Also though not traditional ,it is good saardines. especially fresh grilled ones.

          2. Other cheap gourmet meals:

            1. Carpaccio (cheaper cuts sliced thin and pounded are best) dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, chopped capers, chopped cilantro (at serving), salt, pepper, and peelings of Pec Rom or Parm Reg--and served with homemade peasant bread. Again, plating and presentation--with some long, fine strands of chives!

            2. Fish (white) cioppino (very red in color), small simple green salad (green), and home made loaves + presentation (on white)!

            3. Pasta topped with a bit of the best--combinations of butter, olive oil, pancetta, shavings of the best of hard cheeses, sprinkling of chives and the like; served with home made bread and small green salads

            4. Fresh lumpia or Chinese crepes filled with shredded poached chickn breast plus sprouts, ginger, thinly sliced napa, bit of cilantro, rice noodle, ... You do dipping sauces and PRESENT the filled wraps well.

            5. Dressed soba, shredded poached chicken at the side, dipping sauce for the chicken, quick tsukemeno/pickles.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Thanks, chefchicklet and Sam for inspiration for the weeks ahead. I think it'll be a nice salad nicoise tomorrow. I have a copy of "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day' and have been trying the recipes, often have a batch of dough in the fridge, ready to bake - everyone is happy with a loaf of fresh bread at dinner, and the house smells so good.

              1. re: janeh

                I know! I run out of ideas, priniting this out for the week. I have everything and some of those items are eeking up to the expire date.

                Sam, the carpaccio, that is a wonderful starter and one that I forget about! Its one of our favorites to order out. Round steak? I'll keep an eye out for this cut the next time I visit the meat counter. Thanks for the reminder!

                Making bread, I know I'm getting pretty good at it and more people really should try it, a little practice is all.

                I love to present meals like this!

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Good ideas Sam! I made egg rolls the other day. So true, a little pork, shrimp, sprouts, cabbage, carrots, whatever. These are so satisying and right on the money. What did they cost per person? $1.50 for the crepes (should of made my own), perhaps $1.25 per person? With some left over for snacking later and the next day...I made 25 of them little golden rolls of sheer goodness....Easy peasy too.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Your #3 is virtually in weekly rotation here at Casa Gio. Often I add left over veggies, or meat into the mix. Funny, but I never serve bread with pasta. The old 2 starches in 1 meal bugaboo learned from my grandmother.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Sam a question on 3. Is the cioppino made of just whit fish? Traditionally and the type I make has a lot of expensive shell fish. But just white fish? Sounds good.

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      I make cioppino with just white fish because I'm allergic to shell fish. People seem to really like it. I thought of it for this thread because it is way, way less expensive than using fresh shell fish.

                  2. I have a conundrum. I grew up poor and now I am "not so much". I have vestiges of my frugal ways and yet I can do what I choose.
                    I make large pots of beans and freeze some of it. I bake bread and do the same. I buy meat, on sale, as you. I garden (I have the luxury of space for them) and I have a freezer and a second 'fridge. So I buy things on sale and I freeze what I grow and can't consume during the summer or give away.
                    Today, I (supposedly) bought half of a frozen wild salmon for $10/lb! This is an attempt of a good local butcher to become a fishmonger (too). He said, "I gotta freeze it".
                    One of our favorite meals is a salad with hard-boiled egg, avocado, bacon or fresh salmon/tuna, leftover steak or chicken and whatever I can scrounge out of the garden. Sometimes I throw in toasted nuts, olives and cheeses. Right now, we have all the salad we want.
                    I make delicious soups and stews out of leftovers combined with fresh things.
                    Thanks for the good thread.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Scargod

                      Sounds like me, but our restaurant dining took a real nose dive w/ 4 kids in college. My kids joke, if it is alive and stops, I cook it. I saw kids starving in the third world and now I can't waste food. We do splurge, however, when we visit the kids. Taco Time in Austin!

                      1. re: Scargod

                        Scargod, let me make sure I heard this correctly. You purchased a whole wild salmon for $10 per pound? Or a whole salmon for $10.
                        That seems high to me or am I wrong?

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I purchased one side of a salmon for $10/lb. Wild caught salmon can go for 2X that here.

                          1. re: Scargod

                            My favorite butcher in San Francisco is selling fresh wild salmon fillets for $29.99 lb. I guess it tastes great but I'll never know because I won't pay that price.

                            1. re: walker

                              Not so long ago there was a NY Times expose about how little of the "wild salmon" was the real deal, yet they charged $20-35/lb. for it. They said it was more common that not for it to be mislabeled (and a rip-off).
                              I'll try my butcher's frozen wild salmon tonight. Cant't tell anything when it's frozen, other than it looked like salmon. Regardless of the claim, if it is flavorful and fresh I will think it is a good value.
                              For those wanting value, do not turn your nose up at frozen or previously frozen fish. Perhaps much of what is available here, on the coast of CT and much of New England will be fresh, but it can be a real issue inland, like Dallas, where I came from. My almost relative is a "Doctor of Fishology" (professor of aquaculture). He says previously frozen is generally fresher, if its source is a major grocery chain. Much fish is flash frozen.

                              1. re: Scargod

                                Wow, it is heartbreaking to hear of people getting "fake" wild salmon. In Seattle there would be rioting in the streets.

                                I bought a whole fresh Copper River Sockeye last week at $13 a pound. it came to $40. That might sound like a lot of cash until you think about the fact that I got 8 decent fillets out of it, so 5 bucks a fillet for some of the finest fish on the planet.

                            2. re: Scargod

                              Gawd do I ever miss my Dad. He would bring me fresh wild salmon from Washington. Packed it on dry ice, and drove like a nut to the bay area for me to get it fresh. I sure could use some of his crab and shrimp too.
                              I just bought some salmon at Costco last weekend, I'm sure its farmed. Its been so long since I have had wild salmon I doubt I'd be able to tell the difference. The prices are just too high.

                              When you do the math is it really justified to pay $30 a pound?

                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                I think it depends on your taste buds, political leanings and how much meat/protein you give each person.

                                In our family, we try to focus on the veg and use the meat as accent--sort of an asian approach. So sometimes we have that high end salmon but I still only buy a pound and divide it five ways and have a lot of veg and grains to go with it.

                                1. re: jenn

                                  Well now I am curious! What kind of salmon is this? I know it must be wild, which I would prefer. Is this the Copper River salmon? Good idea, the portions are perfect!

                        2. Okonomiyaki can be incredibly cheap, has lots of variety, and is really easy. Lots of recipes. but I use about equal portions eggs to veggies to flour. then enough dashi to properly thin.

                          The main veggie is cabbage - cheap. An easy thing is to buy preshredded cole slaw mix. Other ingredients are as expensive or as cheap as you like. Mayo and the sauce - even bonito flakes - are cheap per portion. Want it more pancaky? More flour. More eggy? More, well, egg. Try adding noodles or making it with noodles, I imagine you could use rice as well. How about cous cous? Hmmm...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Richard 16

                            Tried okanakimaki (I can't spell that!) last night. We loved it! Pork, bok choi asparagus, chives and roasted peppers. Yummy!